Clinician's Digest

Clinician's Digest

Is Teen Suicide Contagious?

By Chris Lyford

July/August 2017

In the solitude of his garage, high schooler Clay Jensen brushes the dust off his parents’ old Sony boom box and fiddles with the cassette player. His lean frame hunched over the table, he drops in a tape, presses Play, and waits.

“Hey, it’s Hannah,” a voice plays out over the speakers. “Hannah Baker. I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to this tape, you’re one of the reasons why.”

This is one of many chilling scenes in 13 Reasons Why, a Netflix series that debuted in late March and quickly went viral among teenagers and 20-somethings across the country. Chronicling the downward spiral of Clay’s classmate, 17-year-old Hannah Baker, the series shows us the final weeks before she takes her own life, mostly through Clay’s point of view. Its 13 episodes bare the depths of her suffering—replete with sexual assault, substance abuse, betrayal, character assassination, and cyberbullying—which culminates in a graphic scene of Hannah slitting her wrists in a bathtub. In a final act of vengeance, however, she’s recorded and mailed 13 audio cassettes to 13 classmates, each one describing how the recipient is indirectly responsible for her death.

With a generous budget, a bingeable format, and teen pop singer Selena Gomez at the helm as an executive producer, 13 Reasons Why has become one of Netflix’s most watched features. A tragedy for the digital age, most of the damage…

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